A new poll conducted by Tulchin Research for Defenders of Wildlife found that the majority of voters in western states want to see sage-grouse protected, even if that means listing the bird under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Add to that one New Jerseyan. I didn’t know what a sage-grouse was before I began working for Defenders of Wildlife. Now I consider myself, like the majority of westerners, an advocate for their protection.
Sage-grouse are a special bird. They have a long and storied history in our country and are an iconic ambassador of a quintessentially western landscape, the Sagebrush Sea. Today, greater sage-grouse range has been reduced by nearly half and populations have declined by up to 90 percent.
And the grouse aren’t the only sagebrush species at risk – the loss of sage-grouse on the western landscape is signaling alarm bells for a much greater problem. The Sagebrush Sea is home to hundreds of other species of wildlife, including golden eagles, mule deer, elk, pronghorn and native trout. Unfortunately, millions of acres of sagebrush grasslands have been lost to agriculture and development over the past 200 years. What remains is fragmented and degraded by poorly managed oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing, mining, unnatural fire, invasive weeds, off-road vehicles, roads, fences, pipe¬lines and utility corridors.
Westerners have noticed what’s happening around them, and they don’t like it. By paying attention to the plight of sage-grouse, and doing our best to protect them, we also protect the Sagebrush Sea and all of its inhabitants. Polling has confirmed that the majority of voters throughout Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming and Montana want to see sage-grouse protected for future generations. People do not want to see the terrible trends of species and habitat loss continue, and they want their leaders to make sure sage-grouse survive.
In fact, according to the poll,
- 71% of voters support protections for and conservation of sage-grouse;
- 67% of voters across the region favor listing sage-grouse under the ESA if current conservation plans are inadequate to protect the species; and
- 51% of voters are more likely to support political leaders who support protecting the sage-grouse.
I certainly wish someone had asked me about my feelings on the loss of wildlife and habitat in New Jersey before it was too late. In the West we still have a chance to conserve sage-grouse and sagebrush grasslands, and it is our responsibility for ourselves and for future generations to do so.
Courtney Sexton is a Communications Associate at Defenders of Wildlife